Fritz, Rublev Begin A High-Stakes Week In Vienna

Taylor Fritz (photo: e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Christian Hofer)

VIENNA/WASHINGTON, October 24, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With two weeks remaining in the Pepperstone ATP Race to Turin, four Top-10 players who are competing at the ATP 500 Erste Bank Open indoor hard-court event in the Austrian capital city of Vienna this week – Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Taylor Fritz and Hubert Hurkacz – are in contention for three final spots.

Two of the four – No. 3 seed Rublev and No. 4 seed Fritz – saw first-round action at Wiener Stadthalle, the country’s largest sports arena, on Monday.

Eighth-ranked Rublev of Russia sits in sixth place in the Race, while No. 10 Fritz of the United States, a winner of three ATP Tour titles this year, is on the outside looking in currently as the eighth-placed player. While Rublev, who two weeks ago won his fourth ATP Tour title of the year in Gijón, Spain opened against 21st-ranked Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, Fritz began against 37th-ranked Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, who was coming off a quarterfinal run in Antwerp, Belgium that lifted him to a career-high ranking.

In his first match as a Top-10 player after reaching that plateau two weeks ago, Fritz battled against Nishioka. The Japanese left-hander is a crafty player, who is no stranger to knocking off Top-10 players after having scored victories over Rublev in Washington, D.C. and Casper Ruud in Seoul. The American from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. was playing in his first match following two weeks off Tour after winning the title at Tokyo – and it showed. To Fritz’s credit, he pulled out 6-7 (4), 7-6 (7), 6-3 comeback win, in two hours and 43 minutes that was in doubt until the 24-year-old American No. 1 broke Nishioka in the eighth game of the final set to go ahead 5-3. Then, he closed it out with his 21st ace on match point for his 42nd victory of the season.

It was Fritz’s  first win against Nishioka in his fourth meeting and it climbed him to 2,910 points in the Race To Turin. He trails Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime by 315 points for seventh place.

After Fritz lost a tough, first-set tie-break 7-4, he saved a second-set match point in the 10th game. Like the opening set, the second was decided by a tie-break, and this time it was won by Fritz 9-7 on his third-set point attempt. On to a third set, Fritz broke Nishioka twice during the decider and it proved to be a difference maker in the outcome.

During a post-match interview, Fritz was asked by ATP Media what he attributes his success to in winning deciding sets to. After all, he’s won seven of his last 10 matches that went to a decider and 19 overall in 2022. Fritz answered: “I have no idea. I think when I get myself that into a match, I want to finish it and see it through. I find it really surprising because I played a lot of three-setters midway through the year when I wasn’t fully fit. I’m really surprised by that stat.”

Fritz finished off Monday’s victory hitting 58 winners to 46 unforced errors compared with Nishioka’s 25 winners and 15 unforced errors. The triumph advanced him into the second round against either 130th-ranked Austrian wild card Jurij Rodionov or World No. 19 Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who play Tuesday.

Later, in the evening’s featured match, 2020 Vienna champion Rublev defeated Schwartzman, 6-4, 6-1, in 91 minutes. It extended the Argentine’s losing streak to six straight dating back to the US Open. He has also dropped 13 of his last 14 sets. Rublev improved to 9-3 lifetime in Vienna at the Erste Open.

Rublev hit 21 winners, won 76 percent of his first-serve points, saved all three break points he faced and broke Schwartzman four times. He outpointed his opponent, who finished with 21 unforced errors, 72-55.

Next, Rublev will take on either No. 32 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria or 66th-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro, who play Tuesday.

Around the Erste Bank Open

• Home country Austria is represented in this year’s singles draw by 2019 champion Dominic Thiem and wild cards Filip Misolic, Dennis Novak and Jurij Rodionov. Since tearing his right wrist and suffering a 10-match losing streak, Thiem has recovered nicely and advanced to three ATP 250 semifinals, at Gstaad in July, at Gijón two weeks ago and at Antwerp last week.

Thiem, who will be featured in Tuesday’s order of play against No. 30 Tommy Paul of the United States, jumped 19 spots this week in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to No. 113 following his last-four run at the European Open.

Meanwhile, Misolic, 21, reached the Kitzbühel final in July in his ATP Tour debut. Three months later, the Graz native found himself playing in his second ATP Tour main draw as a wild card. On Monday evening, he faced No. 29 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, whom Thiem defeated in the second round at Antwerp, and lost 6-3, 6-3 in 68 minutes.

Cerundolo converted three of four break points and outpointed his Austrian opponent 57-40. Next, Cerundolo will face either World No. 12 and sixth seed Jannik Sinner of Italy or No. 86 Cristian Garin of Chile.

• No. 18 Karen Khachanov of Russia advanced with a 7-6 (4), 7-5 win over American J.J. Wolf, who was a finalist two weeks ago in Florence, Italy. Khachanov hit 13 aces and struck 24 winners while the 56th-ranked Wolf finished with 10 aces and 31 winners. Khachanov, who outpointed Wolf 82-70, will face either No. 26 Daniel Evans of Great Britain or 54th-ranked lucky loser Oscar Otte of Germany in the second round. Otte replaced No. 8 seed Matteo Berrettini, who withdrew with a left foot injury.

• No. 27 Borna Coric of Croatia hit 38 winners and rallied to beat 69th-ranked qualifier Quentin Halys of France, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, for his 16th victory of the season. Halys, who was making his Vienna main-draw debut, has lost back-to-back tour-level first-round matches since winning an ATP Challenger title at the Wolffkran Open in Ismaning, Germany earlier this month. Next, Coric will face either World No. 5 and second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece or 155th-ranked Austrian wild card Dennis Novak.

• Doubles No. 3 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, were upset by Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, 1-6, 6-3, 10-4. Meanwhile, Belgian qualifiers Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen beat Germany’s Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, 6-3, 3-6, 12-10.

Monday’s Erste Bank Open results

Tuesday’s Erste Bank order of play

Dimitrov, Sinner welcomed by city of Vienna

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov and last year’s semifinalist Jannik Sinner of Italy were among the players who fit in some weekend sightseeing around Vienna. The Erste Bank Open regulars were welcomed by City Councillor for Finance Peter Hanke at the town hall and posed in front of the mega board giant banner.

“Vienna is a wonderful city with incredibly beautiful sights,” Sinner said. “I’m happy every time I come back here.”

By the numbers

• Five of the last six players to reach the Vienna final are featured in this year’s draw, including 2020 champion Andrey Rublev. Last year’s champion, World No. 6 Alexander Zverev of Germany is not defending his title due to a season-ending injury.

• All of the singles seeds are currently ranked in the Top 20: No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 8 Andrey Rublev, No. 10 Taylor Fritz, No. 11 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 12 Jannik Sinner, and No. 13 Cameron Norrie. Three other Top 20 players are in the Vienna draw: No. 17 Frances Tiafoe, No. 18 Karen Khachanov and No. 19 Denis Shapovalov.